Town Revitalization Plan Wins APA Award, Bolsters Diverse Community
Many communities have felt a bit of pain for the last few years. For the City of Bridgeport, it has been particularly challenging. A pandemic and a 300,000-acre fire hitting a community already struggling economically in the same year might have given residents a grim outlook, if not for a Community Revitalization Plan already in the works.
The Making of a Community-driven Plan
The Plan began in 2018 after receiving a Community Development Block Grant (CBDG), when the City hired SCJ Alliance to begin the visioning and planning process. That planning effort became a promise of a future for the community, encouraging residents when spirits were lowest, and culminating in the 2021 Vernon Deines Award for a Comprehensive Plan or Special Project.
The award, given by the American Planning Association (APA), honors this project for the community support it received and recognizes the significant contributions to planning excellence in small towns and rural communities.
A town of only 2,500 people, the majority of Bridgeport’s residents are young Hispanics/Latinos. Given this, and the City’s past as a strong ranching and agricultural center, the plan aims to blend Bridgeport’s heritage with its cultural diversity, in turn, investing collaboratively in a community to spur revitalization.
While focused on the SR-173 corridor, the plan includes important connections and improvements city-wide to aid in long-term success. Smart growth principles in the plan include creating a mix of land uses and gathering spaces, incentivizing housing opportunities and diversity along the corridor, fostering walkability, preserving natural amenities, and establishing a distinct sense of place that is unique to the City.
Creating an Event Space Part of the Planning Puzzle
One specific focus in the plan is turning a dilapidated former carwash into an event space, one that could host community celebrations, concerts, and even food trucks. Residents see this idea as a start in rallying the community around both their culture and town identity―a place where both can be celebrated. That’s a big deal for a town that doesn’t even have a bank.
“Celebrations will get more people out here, not just from our town- there’s three towns down the road that would come!” said Benjamin Hernández, owner of Bridgeport’s Plaza Grocery. “It will be something that everybody can be proud of.”
Community Engagement and Feedback Key
To engage the community and validate the vision for the plan, SCJ used different methods to communicate and get feedback from the largely Spanish-speaking population. Surveys were distributed in both English and Spanish with COVID-safe drop-off locations and business owners were interviewed while socially distanced and masked.
Through this effort, residents expressed their willingness to donate time and resources to better their town, with community volunteers jumping at the chance to help implement the plan.
SCJ Project Manager Rachel Granrath and Bridgeport Revitalization Committee Chair Leslie Robb were asked to share their planning success story at the APA WA/OR fall conference. In Equity in Small Town Planning, Granrath and Robb explained how this award-winning project came together and the unique aspects that led to increased engagement with the diverse, rural community.